OpinionPat Spillane

Dubs exposed as blanket raised again

Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin, in action against Ger Egan, Westmeath. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final
Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin, in action against Ger Egan, Westmeath. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final

I WAS both surprised and disappointed by events in Croke Park on Sunday.

I was surprised by the fact that Dublin’s winning margin wasn’t bigger and at how flat their performance was.

It was played at the same tempo as a typical challenge match. In fact, it sounds like there was more ‘action’ in the recent Dublin v Armagh challenge game.

On the subject of that game and in the wake of Davy Byrne’s injury, which required a two-night stay in hospital, I was very disappointed with the attitude taken by both team managements.

The whole affair stinks. It is akin to the three monkeys approach: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Had the incident which resulted in Byrne’s injury occurred on the street, it would be the subject of a police investigation.

The fact that it happened at a behind-closed-doors challenge game, and that the two players involved subsequently made up, cuts no ice.

The GAA certainly need to get on top of this whole issue – and quickly.

Getting back to the Leinster final, I’m fed up with people telling me that Westmeath achieved some kind of moral victory.

Come off it! Westmeath lost by 13 points and Dublin never looked liked like losing the game.

No trophies are handed out for moral victories – although in this country we seem to be suckers for celebrating glorious failures.

In recent times, for example, we have been wheeling out the heroes of Italia ’90 and cele­brating their achievements.

Strip away the hype and the reality is that Ireland were beaten in the quarter-finals – and their only victory came via a penalty shoot-out.

I can understand the predicament that Tom Cribbin was in. He was caught between a rock and a hard place: Damned if he didn’t deploy a blanket defence and damned if he went toe-to-toe with Dublin.

After listening to all the nonsense about glori­ous failure, I am reminded of the famous quote from Vince Lombardi, the famous American football coach: “Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.”

Westmeath did make things difficult for Dublin in the first-half and the sides were level after 10 minutes as the favourites struggled to get past the blanket defence

However, the reality is that Westmeath were not set up for victory; they were set up to keep the losing margin acceptable.

They was no focus on an attacking plan. One man was left isolated up front for long spells, which forced them to shoot from impossible distances.

Ten of their efforts for scores fell short, which simply handed hard-won possession back to the Dubs.

They scored the grand total of four points in the first-half and just two after the break. Remember, they hit 2-12 in the same period against Meath.

I had read before the game that Gerry Duffy, who once ran 32 marathons on 32 successive days, was involved in the back-room team.

Now here is a man who was prepared to give it a lash.

So I thought Westmeath might do likewise in the second-half. Throw off the shackles and give it a go as they had done against Meath.

Instead it was more of the same – and their dam­age-limitation defensive plan imploded within five minutes of the restart.

So what about the Dubs? Not a whole lot of positives, though in fairness they were on a hiding to nothing.

They won playing poorly for long spells, rarely getting out of second gear.

The only bright spot was when they pushed up on Westmeath’s kick- outs straight after half-time and scored 2-1.

The other realistic challengers for Sam, such as Kerry, Cork, Donegal and Mayo, will have taken a lot of encouragement from the game.

They will have noted two things. When Dublin don’t bring their A game to the table they are an ordinary enough side.

More significantly, they continue to struggle when faced with a blanket defence.

The evidence is mounting all the time: the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal, the 2012 quarter-final against Laois and, of course, last year’s six-point loss to Donegal.

In this spring’s league they gave sub-stand­ard performances against Derry, Tyrone and Monaghan (in the league semi-final) when they had to cope with a blanket defence.

Their attacking statistics made grim reading as three of the starting forwards and the first two substitutes failed to score from play.

They hit 16 wides and were guilty of taking the wrong option and of poor shot selection on many occasions.

Too often they play into the hands of the blan­ket defence by being slow, ponderous and lateral in their build-ups, with not enough runners coming at pace off the shoulder.

More worryingly, unlike Kerry and Donegal, who have Kieran Donaghy and Michael Murphy, they don’t have the option of going long to a target man on the edge of the square.

Of course, one poor performance doesn’t make them a bad team, but it does provide hope for all their opponents that they are not the unstoppa­ble machine they are sometimes built up to be.

The bottom line is that they have as many flaws as the other leading contenders.

The big worry for them is that, like last year, they will come in undercooked to the All-Ireland series.

They have won a Leinster title by beating three Division 3 sides and their next outing will almost certainly be against the losers of last night’s replay between Kerry and Cork.